Caught between hope and hopelessness Half widow living the life in limbo

Shazia Khan
Posted March 9, 2009 from India

The cold December wind was blowing from nearby Dal Lake. Sitting under a mammoth dried Chinar tree Sahil, a six-year-old boy, was praying for someone he has never seen; his father Tariq Ahmed Rather. When I ask him about his father he replied, “I have never seen his father, but he resembled like me, my mother has told me tha.” Sahil is studying in an English medium school located in one of the localities in down town Srinagar, while his other two elder brothers are surviving at two different orphanages.

Sahil’s mother sais that he was just few months old when his father disappeared. Since then his father’s whereabouts are not known.

Tariq was a small-time businessman. In 2002, while traveling to Delhi he disappeared. From that time, Tahira approached every authority, knocked every door but to no avail. She said many people say they saw his husband in army custody. She visited every police station and every army camp of Baramulla to trace him but failed to get any clue.

From past six years, Tahira is working in a tailoring centre run by a trust. She is struggling with life performing the role of both father and mother of her children. She is actually not living but simply surviving. Surviving for her children.

Tahira is living in limbo. Neither a widow nor divorcee, she is married but without a husband. She is labeled a half widow -– a term so frequently found in present day reporting, a woman whose husband is missing but not known to be dead. Tahira grieves over her husband who can either still be alive or be long dead. Her three sons cling to the memory without ever having known their father.

Tahira is not alone in the quest of justice. She is not the only one whose husband vanished in the tempest of ongoing conflict. From nineties to the date, thousands of people have gone missing after their arrest by Indian forces. According to Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), since the armed revolt broke out in 1989, around 10,000 people have gone disappeared.

However, army claims the list of disappeared men prepared by human rights organizations is full of fictitious names. State authorities gave contradictory figures of disappeared and put the number at 3,931. Among the disappeared persons, majority of them are young and belong to weaker section of society. Around 1,500 disappeared people were married. Even the number may be not exact because many cases that occurred in far flung areas went unreported. Majority of the half widows are living in the abject poverty and misery. Even some of them have been deserted by their in-laws. As most of them belong to lower, impoverished and backward sections of the society, no one actually seems to be bothered about them. Without any proof that their husbands are dead, they are not eligible for government compensations nor are they able to receive any relief as recompense to the relative of any civilian killed by militant or security forces. They have to wait for five years before they apply for such benefits.

Apart from that, half widows cannot claim the property of their husbands nor can they knot themselves in another marital relationship, as there exist a great amount difference of opinion between Muslim scholars and legal experts in this regard.

The four schools of thoughts prevalent in Muslims do not agree to one opinion in this matter. According to legal experts, waiting period has been fixed for 7 years and if after second marriage her first husband appeared the first marriage will be dissolved. Whereas a religious scholar opines that Waiting period has been fixed for 4 years and if after second marriage her first husband appeared the second marriage will be dissolved. Not to land in further trouble many women do not go for remarriages. They continue to hold on to the memories of their husbands, images of their spouses vibrant with life, and carry on their battle with the harsh realities of life.

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